Written evidence from Malcolm Lacey, Chief
Probation Officer, Dorset, 1982-97 (PB 34)|
1. Increasing use of fast track reports:
skills of probation officers in engaging with offenders in order
that appropriate rehabilitative and restorative programmes may
be offered to the court;
to intervene in the crisis that the court appearance entails when
defendants are most open to change; and
not use the multi-disciplinary skills necessary for long-lasting
change which include health, psychiatric, addiction, and education.
2. Key importance of offender using the information
that the various professions have given him or her and helping
them to take responsibility for changing their behaviour.
3. Offenders lack psycho-social skills. Most
offenders respond positively to cognitive behavioural groups provided
on an intensive basis.
4. Huge cost, both financial and social, to society
if intensive intervention is not provided as shown by Sainsbury
5. Two-thirds of prisoners indicate they would
like to change but don't know how to access the resources they
6. Key importance of developing networks within
the community that can offer friendship, assistance and advice.
7. Prisons should be accountable to local Probation
Services for providing programmes in prison that can be used and
followed up in the "real world".
In any one year, probation officers will prepare
around 200,000 Pre-sentence Reports and will be supervising around
200,000 people. About three-quarters of the reports are for magistrates'
courts and about a quarter for the crown courts. Fast delivery
PSRs make up nearly 40% of all PSRs, a proportion that has grown
rapidly. This is crazy. It is, nevertheless, a consequence of
the history of PSRs which, for most of the history of the Service,
were prepared by the local probation officer who would, for the
most part, supervise the offender if he or she decided they could
offer something to prevent further re-offending. In essenceand
this is not meant to be belittling - it was "I have a hunch
I can get on with/influence/offer some practical help and advice
to this person". The fast track report is crazy for three
First, it undervalues what the probation officer
does. He or she is the only person in the court process charged
with trying to understand why the offender has reached the point
at which he now stands and to work out ways in which he might
take responsibility for making amends and, in the longer term,
for changing his behaviour. It also has the effect of demonstrating
to the offender that no-one is taking his predicament seriously;
he is caught up in a process from which he can gain nothing -
no incentive, no insight, no help, no challenge to his assumptions
or his patterns of behaviour.
Second, a court appearance is a life crisis for the
offender whatever the bravado with which some of them confront
it. We know that a life crisis is a key moment when changebehavioural
change - is more possible than at any other time. It is a moment,
lasting no more than six weeks at the most. Current arrangements
squander the potential of that moment.
Third, we know that a probation officer's caseload
is, in the main, made up of young men who are persistently committing
relatively serious offences. "There is substantial evidence
that offenders as a group are significantly atypical of the general
population in terms of the constellation of personal difficulties
that they face. Commonly they will have a range of associated
psychosocial problems such as unemployment, housing difficulties,
poor educational achievement, disruptive family arrangements and
mental health problems; a substantial minority will have attempted
suicide, or misused drugs and alcohol. For a substantial subgroup
of offenders, their difficulties have been lifelong; almost a
third have been in care as children and they show significantly
more disrupted and difficult behaviour and problems than those
who have not been in care." (Ford, Pritchard and Cox 1997).
In addition, they are more likely to be heavy smokers and to be
more accident prone than the general population.
It will not have gone unnoticed that these ideas
are contained in the government Green Paper Engaging Communities
in Criminal Justice, where Community Courts are perceived
as Problem Solving Forums which engage a wide range of professionals
as well as local community contacts. The Government seems to have
stepped back from the cost of providing purpose built centres.
Instead, it proposes to test other models, based on existing magistrates'
courts, involving multi-agency working and "virtual problem-solving
teams". Repeat offenders would go before the same judge,
or magistrates, who would review their progress. Perhaps we are
on the brink of constructing a new "narrative" about
the role of the probation officer and the links that should embed
the service in the local community.
I don't want to downgrade the importance of "hunches";
indeed I think they are vital especially in the assessment of
risk where the prickling of the hairs on the back of the neck
tells us something is going on even if we are not quite sure what.
But I want to suggest that it should be only a part of a much
more extended assessment. That assessment would take place in
a probation centre which would:
amongst its staff a psychologist;
referral to psychiatric services; and
formal arrangements with the local college of further education
for entry into appropriate courses.
Every offender would:
a nurse to check on their general level of health, with reference
to diet and fitness and including their use of drugs, alcohol
tests to determine their levels of literacy and numeracy.
history and risk assessment.
The probation officer should be responsible for drawing
all the information together and discussing it with the defendant.
If in doubt about the implications of the findings, he or she
should convene a case conference at which the defendant should
normally be present. This should always happen when the offence
has been a violent one or there seems to be a substantial risk
Now for the key point. It may have appeared that
the collection of a far wider range of information is the major
change I am seeking and, clearly, I do see that as being of great
importance. The greater change I am arguing for is a change in
the ownership of the information. It belongs to the defendant.
He has provided it and it is for him to decide what use he makes
of it. At the moment it is usually the probation officer who uses
the information in order to suggest what they should do with or
to the defendant. This is with the best intentions but there will
be a tendency to view the defendant as the object of an investigation
not the main actor who has to make decisions about what use he
is going to make of what he has learned. This tendency has been
strengthened by the abolition of "consent" to any order
that might be made. The abolition of consent has not been seen
to be important.
It is instructive to go back to the 1907 Probation
of Offenders Act. The defendant was not asked to give his consent
but to "enter into a recognizance". It is a significant
change from the passive to the active mood. In the assessment
process I envisage, the defendant would present to the court a
short, signed, document with three elements:
responsibility for what I have done.
make amends as far as I can.
undertake the following activities to improve myself.
This would accompanied by the probation officer's
report which would give the evidence on the sincerity of the defendant's
offer, the background that had led to it and, of course, relating
it to the seriousness of the offence and public safety. The probation
officer provides an independent, impartial account as happens
at the moment. Having helped the defendant to prepare a life-plan,
he or she has to stand back and make a judgement on whether it
will work. So much social work is on this edge of 'helpful distrust',
of advocacy and scrutiny. It seems an impossible dream but probation
officers know it is possible and that disasters happen when the
work gets too far away from that edge.
Having said that, it may be the case that it is practically
and emotionally too onerous and confusing for one person to combine
befriending and therapy with the scepticism required of checkingin
both the senses of investigating and stopping. This is an area
that needs more exploration.
There is a wide recognition that the probation service
should have a lot of links into other statutory and voluntary
agencies and that much of the work of rehabilitation should be
undertaken by them. This is very positive but in all the talk
of commissioning, partnership, inter-agency co-operation it sometimes
feels that there is a hole where the defendant should be. In truth,
probation officers know that effective change only takes place
when they engage with the offender, that is to say, consent is
gained even if it is not articulated. However, it is preferable
to use positive words such as engagement, contracting, "entering
into a recognizance".
For most offenders, a cognitive behavioural group
would be an essential part of their rehabilitation. They should
be required to attend two sessions a week starting after no more
than four working days; if they miss a session, then they would
re-enter the course at the point at which they left, not the group
in which they were. It is a step in the learning process which
has to be recovered, not a detention. This puts the emphasis on
learning all the necessary social skills. When the content of
these groups is boiled down, they focus on genuineness, empathy
and non-possessive warmth, that famous therapeutic trinity (Truax
and Carkhuff) which are in fact the essence of living together
in a civilised way. In other words, knowing and being able to
control oneself; being able to get into another person's world
and imagine how they feel; and expressing oneself in an open and
non-defensive way. Such groups also enable them to challenge each
other which, again, we know that participants find both helpful
In addition, other activities would be undertaken
to remedy the conditions highlighted in the assessment. This is
why assessment based, as it is currently on self report is so
inadequate. Home, employment and social (peer group) network contact
is surely imperative in knowing about the problems to be resolved
and why a single supervisor is no longer a viable or valid model.
The task of the probation officer is to ensure that the offender
carries out his part of the contract but also, and crucially,
to help the offender make sense of the various experiences he
is going through.
This is not the place to go into the managerial issues
of this suggested change except to say that the logistics must
be very carefully worked out. The organisation will be different
in different areas. The concept that has to be grasped is that
we are introducing people into a programme, tailored to individual
needs, and not, primarily, into a relationship. The model is an
educational rather than a therapeutic one. In doing so, we can
have the paradoxical effect of increasing contact time probably
five times or more than in the conventional reporting model.
There's no point in glossing over the fact that it
is very hard to get alienated young men motivated enough to participate.
We do need to take breach action and to have an understanding
with the courts that such action is disciplinary rather than punitive
and that it is an unavoidable element of the change process. These
young people have deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour which
to us seem self-destructive but which for them have held many
rewards, not least of companionship and release from depression.
The Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health has just reported
that up to 80% of crime in the UK is committed by people who had
behavioural problems as children and teenagers, costing as much
as £60 billion a year. Only one child in 20 has a conduct
disorder but they go on to commit 30% of crime at a cost to society
of more than £22 billion a year. A lifetime of crime committed
by a single prolific offending person's behaviour can cost up
to £1.5 billion. Another 45% of children have mild or moderate
behaviour problems, and go on to commit half of all crime at a
cost of £37 billion a year. The Report maintains that early
intervention programmes can significantly reduce crime levels.
(The Guardian 23 Nov 2009)
Other research has shown that two-thirds of crime
is committed by around 6-7% of all offendersnamely those
prolific offenders identified in the previous paragraph. At some
point they will all be on the probation caseload. They are those
same children which the Sainsbury Report has identified, only
by the time they reach the probation service their behaviour will
have become much more damaging and their attitudes more deeply
embedded. Even so, some two-thirds of those questioned while in
prison expressed the wish to change- they recognise the desolation
of their lives but lack the skills to ameliorate it. A vibrant,
relevant probation centre offers an opportunity to gain just those
skills and the support to help them through the rough times. The
probation officer/Service/centre must always focus on the need
of those in trouble need to get into wider community networks
as soon as ever possible. That's where the voluntary agencies
could be most help.
The Sainsbury Report emphasises how much support
the parents of children with conduct disorders need. We should
not forget that many of the young men coming onto the probation
caseload are already parents or soon will be. Part of the group
work undertaken at the centre should be intensive parenting tuition.
Their own experience has been of inconsistent and unloving parenting.
A volunteer ran a parenting group in a YOI and recalled teaching
these 18 year olds how to sing the traditional nursery rhymes.
It is hard to imagine a more poignant image.
Once they have completed the intensive part of their
rehabilitation, they will need continuing support in consolidating
their progress. In some cases, this will mean help in getting
work or decent housing; in others, a shoulder to lean on, a helping
hand in getting into new, non-criminal leisure activities, a sponsor.
We should aim to interest various kinds of clubs to take one or
two ex-offenders as members and within those clubs to have volunteers
willing to introduce and integrate them. Recruiting volunteers
seems to be getting more difficult and the Service will have to
give some thought on how this might be overcome. If the Service
runs the kind of intensive, crisis driven, citizenship courses
that I have suggested, then it follows that we need to give them
support as they make a re-entry into society. Beyond that, we
must try to involve the community as a whole in this enterprise.
The Service would need to invest in traditional community work;
many of the communities from which offenders come are themselves
lacking in investment. Helping those communities to achieve a
robust kind of self-help would enable them to re-integrate ex-offenders
without harm to themselves. The prize is very great. Sainsbury
suggests that preventing one child in 25 from entering a life
of crime would be cost-effective. I think we can do better than
A probation officer would of course still be responsible
for each case. The aim is not to replace him or her with "cheap
labour" but to work with individual volunteers and community
groups in a genuine crime prevention project. He or she would
be tasked with getting a grip on the process.
Establishing the same kind of network would apply
to high risk offenders though a probation officer would work directly
with the ex-offender with all the continuing assessment and close
contact that that implies. Vocabulary is important; we need to
have a convention whereby the criminal moves from defendant and
offender to ex-offender and, hopefully, fellow citizen.
The service should capitalise on the meetings with
magistrates who oversee the supervision that is taking place.
Such meetings underline the seriousness with which the offender's
behaviour is taken; but it also provides an opportunity for community
representatives to reward the offender for the progress he is
makinga novel and meaningful experience for most of them.
It could also provide them with an opportunity to re-negotiate
This is a major part of the work. I doubt that it
can be much improved without a major recasting of the penal system,
along the lines set out by the Commission on English Prisons of
the Howard League. They suggest a radical localisation with local
authorities taking responsibility for prisons. Most crime is committed
by local offenders who will return to the same area. Once local
authorities begin to see the large, and largely ineffective, budgets
now commanded by the National Offender Management Service, there
will be immediate and powerful pressure to use community sentences.
In the meantime, prisons should be accountable to
the local probation service for preparing a plan of activity within
the prison that matches the assessment of what is necessary to
prevent re-offending. Under the scheme I am putting forward, many
of the people sent to prison will have gone through the assessment
process. That should be the basis of the plan to be followed.
Ex-prisoners released on licence should follow the
same path as those offenders who have been placed under supervisionassessment
if necessary, taking part in targeted courses and activities and